Sharing the seagoing cowboy and Heifer Project history at Heifer Ranch in Arkansas

This post will be more personal than my normal posts. My husband Rex and I are currently nearing the end of a two-month stay at the Heifer Ranch in Perryville, Arkansas, where I’ve been sequestering myself to work on my book-in-progress about the first decade of the Heifer Project (today’s Heifer International) while Rex has been volunteering in the maintenance department. Quite by coincidence, and fortunately for me, the Heifer International Board of Directors and the Heifer Foundation Board held their meetings at the Ranch this week. The Heifer Board invited me to sit in on Monday, and I am filled with admiration for the incredible talent of Board members and staff alike, appreciation for the work that Heifer is doing both here and abroad, and anticipation of the wonderful things to come.

A highlight of the meeting for me was hearing Senior Vice President of Marketing Christy Moore tell of the marketing team’s visit to Honduras to see for themselves the impact of Heifer’s work there. Today, Heifer is so much more than just giving an animal to recipients, as it was in the beginning. It’s about building sustainable communities, achieving living incomes for community members through their small farms. At the dairy plant the team visited, Heifer has assisted a small business on the verge of closing by providing the owners with help in how to market the cheese they were making, teaching them good manufacturing practices, and providing capital for needed equipment. Heifer’s signature “Passing on the Gift®” value is achieved when the owners are able to pass on the knowledge of hygienic dairy practices to their small farm suppliers. The business has become so successful that families who had migrated to the United States for work are able to move back home because there are jobs for them there now, from the supply end to the marketing end of the cheese business.

Heifer International mission statement guides the Board’s deliberations.

In front of every Board member during the meetings, on the back of their name card, was Heifer’s mission statement. Another highlight for me was hearing of Heifer’s plans to expand their efforts in working at the last part of that statement: taking care of the earth. They already teach the sustainable methods of agriculture to small holder farmers in areas being affected by climate change, methods that help to reclaim, replenish, and protect the soil and water sources. The next step will be to partner with green investors to be able to expand this work to a scale that will help cool the planet.

Heifer President and CEO Pierre Ferrari (on right) addresses environmental impact issues of Heifer’s work. Photo credit: Peggy Reiff MIller.

The third highlight for me was to hear the Board begin their planning for a major global celebration of the organization’s 75th anniversary next year. It seems like only yesterday that we were celebrating the 70th! I’m looking forward to seeing what the planning committee comes up with this time around and to participating in whatever ways I’m asked and able.

Heifer’s Senior Vice President of Marketing Christy Moore (second from right) introduces the 75th Anniversary agenda item. Photo credit: Peggy Reiff Miller.

Together again with “Sister” Jan. Photo credit: Jessica Ford.

The culminating highlight of the day for me was to share the evening stage with Heifer founder Dan West’s daughter in what was billed on the Board’s agenda as “An Evening with Jan Schrock and Peggy Miller,” or as Jan likes to call it, “The Jan and Peggy Show.” This is the fourth time we have presented together, with Jan sharing stories about her father and how he became Heifer’s founder and me sharing the history of Heifer’s beginnings, including stories of the seagoing cowboys and Heifer’s legacy. A bonus was having longtime Heifer Executive Director Thurl Metzger’s daughter Kathleen McNamee present to share about her father’s role in purchasing the Heifer Ranch. The Ranch staff created a very festive atmosphere in an outdoor pavilion and served a delicious meal using Ranch-raised meat and produce that set just the right tone for a delightful evening with the Board members, Heifer International’s Leadership Cabinet, and Heifer Ranch/Heifer USA staff and volunteers. A night to be long remembered.

Jan West Schrock tells how her father’s service in World War I set him on a life-long path of working for peace. Photo credit: Peggy Reiff Miller.

It was an honor to share the history of Heifer’s beginnings with the people who carry on its legacy today. Photo credit: Rex Miller.

Next post: A tour of Heifer Ranch with the Heifer Foundation Board.

17 thoughts on “Sharing the seagoing cowboy and Heifer Project history at Heifer Ranch in Arkansas

  1. Thank you for this post. For the life of me, I do not know why I never connected the Seagoing Cowboys to Heifer International…or at least why that connection may have vanished. I have and continue to learn from your posts about those cowboys. Some of the connection, perhaps, stems from my buried Mennonite roots in NW Ohio..and my professional interest in the merchant marine from the 1930’s to the 1950’s and beyond. Thank you again, and I look forward to your next post…and to reading the book!


    • Great to hear from you, Theron! Well, there are actually three streams of seagoing cowboys, so it’s understandable you didn’t make a connection with Heifer. The bulk of the cowboys worked for UNRRA through the Brethren Service Committee those two years after World War II. Only twelve of UNRRA’s 360 livestock shipments had Heifer Project animals on them. Then after UNRRA disbanded in early 1947, Heifer Project was on its own and the seagoing cowboys were all Heifer cowboys then. The third stream was in the early 1950s with the shipments to Israel arranged by the Jewish Levinson brothers out of Newport News, for which they recruited Mennonite guys. Thanks for your interest!


  2. Peggy you look so lovely in pink. And I am so taken with your passion for Heifer International. Your research astounds me! I know I keep saying it. Loved this update. Glad you had the two months at Heifer Ranch and also the special events with the board.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Many thanks, Peggy, for keeping the Seagoing Cowboys story and Heifer in circulation. We are looking forward to reading your book, and to the 75th celebration. You are a blessing!


  4. Thank Peggy for your dedication to Heifer Project/International. Who could imagine how Dan West’s project would evolve? And those early days were part of my adolescence. Those stories would provide another perspective and some humor to your stories.


  5. So interesting to hear about Heifer International and where it is working now. Can’t wait for the book also. Glad you got to be with Kathleen, a former classmate at MC 1969.
    My mother and father, Eldo and Elizabeth Miller, often told me about the visits they had with Dan West when my dad was working in Elgin in the early years of their marriage.One especially interesting anecdote was when Dan called to say he was coming to have dinner with them and said he’d bring the chicken for the meal. Mom never forgot that dinner as Dan showed up with a LIVE CHICKEN! Luckily, my mother was a chicken farmer’s daughter from Fort Wayne, IN. Dinner was a little late because the chicken had to be killed and dressed before it could be cooked!
    Also, in looking at a history of the Church of the Brethren in Fort Wayne, I found a photo of that same chicken farmer, Irvin Rupp (my grandfather) with the calf he and some boys (including a sea-going cowboy Harlan Dietzel) from our church had raised to send overseas.
    I guess we all have legacies of the Heifer Project to share.
    Rose Miller Easter MC ’69
    PS So glad our English classes are paying off for all of us.


  6. Would it be possible for me to share the beginnings of Heifer Project on the Roger and Olive Roop farm? Yes, it is important to give Dan West credit that is due him for the vision. However, Roger and Olive brought life to that vision. I believe that is often overlooked.


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